updated 9 Aug 2014, 17:29
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Preen, pose, pay
by Jalelah Abu Baker

She preens and poses in a bikini at a budget hotel as a photographer clicks away, guiding her towards seductive poses, sometimes touching her to adjust her clothes.

She is just 14 years old, but for that one hour of her time, she may get paid anywhere between $30 and $500.

This is an increasingly common scenario as more young girls do paid-shoot modelling, a small but growing industry which sees girls getting paid to be photographed by hobbyists.

But a darker side to this trend is emerging as the girls get younger - and more vulnerable - and find themselves paying a higher price than the few dollars they receive.

Sometimes, these teens get molested, or face lewd suggestions from photographers, according to industry professionals who are increasingly hearing of such cases.

Typically, amateur photographers claiming an interest in building up their portfolio offer to pay the girls for their shoots, approaching them through social media.

The average age used to be 17 or 18 years old, but now teens as young as 14 and 15 are getting involved, said Mr Brian Seah who started the Photographic Society of Singapore page on Facebook, which has over 7,000 members.

"They usually just want the money for shopping. They want to buy new shoes, clothes, bags, and it's easy money," he said.

Dr Carol Balhetchet, director of youth services at the Singapore Children's Society, said that these teens are attracted to the fast cash, and being glorified as models.

"They may feel that someone thinks that they are sexy, beautiful," she said.

But the unregulated photography industry here, which Mr Seah said has grown "exponentially", has given rise to hobbyists who prey on these girls.

Ms Fiona Keisha Lee, who runs a modelling agency, said: "These photographers always first say it's a fashion shoot. Then, they will ask 'Are you okay with bikini, lingerie?', 'Are you okay with a hotel?'"

These "hawk photographers" try to be alone with the model. Then they may ask the girls to reveal more, or touch them inappropriately while adjusting their clothes.

One model told Mr Seah recently that she was grabbed and kissed on the forehead by a photographer, after he asked her to pose with her bra unhooked.

And in a case last year that went viral, a girl claimed a photographer told her she had to masturbate in order to give the kind of expressions that he wanted to shoot.

Ms Lee said that in many cases the girls do not leave or protest because "they are inexperienced, and they feel it's part of their job, that this is what models do".

Their trouble often does not end there. About 10 times a month, Mr Seah gets private Facebook messages from girls in trouble when, just two years ago, he would get such messages once a month.

The most common complaint? Their photos were uploaded to sex forums.

"They are afraid to go to the police because they are afraid it will spoil their reputation," said Mr Seah.

He suggested a regulatory framework for the industry, while Ms Lee urged young girls to do prior checks on the reputation of photographers on online forums.

She said: "These girls must remember that doing nude shoots or sexual favours will not get anyone into the industry, period. No decent clients will ever request that."

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